Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can help you unlearn thought patterns that contribute to low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem can negatively affect virtually every part of your life, including your relationships, your job and your health.
But you can raise your self-esteem to a healthy level.
Changing the way you think — about yourself and your life — is essential to boosting self-esteem.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques are helpful in changing unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns. These techniques are based on the idea that your feelings and behavior result from how you think about yourself and your life.
Cognitive behavioral techniques can help you recognize, challenge and ultimately replace negative thoughts or inaccurate beliefs with more positive, realistic ones.
These five steps toward healthy self-esteem are based on cognitive behavioral therapy principles.
Step 1: Identify troubling conditions or situations
Think about the conditions or situations that you find troubling and that seem to deflate your self-esteem, such as dreading a business presentation, frequently becoming angry or always expecting the worst.
Step 2: Become aware of beliefs and thoughts
Once you’ve identified troubling conditions or situations, pay attention to your thoughts related to them. This includes your self-talk — what you tell yourself — and your interpretation of what the situation means. Your thoughts and beliefs may be positive, negative or neutral. They may be rational — based on reason or facts — or irrational — based on false ideas.
Step 3: Pinpoint negative or inaccurate thinking
Notice when your thoughts turn toward the negative. Your beliefs and thoughts about a situation affect your reaction to it.
Negative thoughts and beliefs about something or someone can trigger physical, emotional and behavioral responses, such as:
- Physical responses. These may include muscle tension, a sore back, racing heart, stomach problems, sweating or changes in sleeping patterns.
- Emotional responses. These may include difficulty concentrating, or feeling depressed, angry, sad, nervous, guilty or worried.
- Behavioral responses. These may include eating when not hungry, avoiding tasks, working more than usual, spending increased time alone, obsessing about a situation or blaming others for your problems.
Step 4: Challenge negative or inaccurate thinking
Your initial thoughts may not be the only possible way to view a situation. So test the accuracy of your thoughts.
Ask yourself whether your view is consistent with facts and logic or whether there might be other explanations for the situation.
You may not easily recognize inaccuracies in your thinking, though.
Most people have automatic, long-standing ways of thinking about their lives and themselves. These long-held thoughts and beliefs feel normal and factual to you, but many are actually just opinions or perceptions.
These kinds of thought patterns tend to erode self-esteem:
- All-or-nothing thinking. You see things as either all good or all bad. For example, “If I don’t succeed in this task, I’m a total failure.”
- Mental filtering. You see only negatives and dwell on them, distorting your view of a person or situation. For example, “I made a mistake on that report and now everyone will realize I’m not up to this job.”
- Converting positives into negatives. You reject your achievements and other positive experiences by insisting that they don’t count. For example, “I only did well on that test because it was so easy.”
- Jumping to negative conclusions. You reach a negative conclusion when little or no evidence supports it.
- Mistaking feelings for facts. You confuse feelings or beliefs with facts. For example, “I feel like a failure, so I must be a failure.” No matter how strong a feeling is, it isn’t a fact.
- Self put-downs. You undervalue yourself, put yourself down or use self-deprecating humor. This can result from overreacting to a situation, such as making a mistake. For example, “I don’t deserve anything better.”
Step 5: Change your thoughts and beliefs
Once you’ve identified negative or inaccurate thinking you can replace it with accurate thoughts and beliefs. This can enable you to find constructive ways to cope, and give your self-esteem a boost.
It takes time and effort to learn how to recognize and replace distressing thoughts with accurate ones.
Thoughts often occur spontaneously or automatically. They can they can be hard to control or turn off. Thoughts also can be very powerful and aren’t always based on logic.
These strategies will help Boost your Self-esteem:
- Use hopeful statements. Treat yourself with kindness and encouragement. Pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, if you think your presentation isn’t going to go well, you may indeed stumble through it. Try telling yourself things such as, “Even though it’s tough, I can handle this situation.”
- Forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes aren’t permanent reflections on you as a person. They are isolated moments in time. Tell yourself, “I made a mistake, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.”
- Avoid ‘should’ and ‘must’ statements. If you find that your thoughts are full of these words, you may be putting unreasonable demands on yourself — or on others. Removing these words from your self-talk can give you and others more realistic expectations.
- Focus on the positive. Think about the good parts of your life. Ask yourself, “What things have gone well recently?” “What skills do I have to help me cope with challenging situations?”
- Relabel upsetting thoughts. Having negative thoughts doesn’t mean you must choose to react negatively. Instead, think of them as signals to use new, healthy thinking patterns. Ask yourself, “What can I think and do to make this less stressful?”
- Encourage yourself. Give yourself credit for making positive changes. Tell yourself, “I did a good job on the presentation. It may not have been perfect, but my colleagues said it was good.”
Achieving healthy self-esteem
With practice, these steps may come more easily to you. You’ll be better able to recognize the thoughts and beliefs that are contributing to your low self-esteem. Because self-esteem can fluctuate over time, you may want to revisit these steps, especially if you begin to feel down on yourself again. Keeping a journal or daily log can help you track trouble spots over time.
Achieving a balanced, accurate view of yourself and accepting your value as a person can help you feel happier and more confident.
The best way is to temper self-esteem with empathy.
This helps make a person who feels competent and self-assured, a person willing to take responsibility, who at the same time cares about others.